The Confusing And Slightly Turbulent History Of Mdina's Gates

Who knew a gate could have so many stories?

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Mdina is a city shrouded in mystery. The silent city is found smack dab in the centre of Malta and it boasts a great mixture of Medieval and Baroque buildings. Although tiny, it was our also the island's capital city up until 1530. It first came to life in 700 BC when the Phoenicians built a beautiful protected city and called it Maleth, and has seen countless conquerers including the Romans, Fatimids and the Normans. And at the heart of this long and turbulent history, are the very entrances to the city.

Mdina has three main entrances, and people nowadays tend to choose which one to use out of convenience (fejn ipparkjajt bro?). 

But as it so happens, each of these gates has a very particular history behind it, and when joined together, tells the story of a turbulent (and honestly confusing) couple of centuries.

1. Vilhena Gate

The Vilhena Gate is also known as the Main Gate of Mdina.  

It is structured in a Baroque style and was designed by Charles François de Mondion — a French architect and military engineer who also happened to be a member of the Order of St. John. 

Of course, since it’s called the Vilhena Gate, we know that it was built during António de Vilhena’s Grand Master-y era. 

Back in the Medieval period, The gate preceding this one was called the Prima Porta Principale.

There were two main entrances separated by courtyards, but the gate was revamped by the order of St. John since they thought it did not look majestic enough.

The result, we're sure everyone will agree, is indeed majestic enough. The gate has pretty much become an amazing national monument and the subject of an infinite amount of Instagram shots.

Leading to the gate is an arched stone bridge decorated with intimidating lions resting their paws on the de Vilhena coat of arms.

Interestingly, this bridge replaced the original wooden drawbridge which used to lead to the gate. 

This cool ass gate consists of a giant portal and a behemoth structure serving as a gatehouse, decorated with de Vilhena’s coat of arms and a Latin inscription. The Latin inscription refers to both de Vilhena and St. Paul (Google Translate is kinda fuzzy when it comes to translating languages, let alone ancient ones no one even speaks anymore).  

The back part of this sexy gate has St. Paul, St. Agatha and St. Publius reliefs; these guys and gal are the patron saints of Malta. The Inguanez coat of arms can also be seen on this side of the gate on the city walls. 

2. Greek's Gate

The second gate of Mdina is known as The Greek’s Gate and is situated near St. Nicholas Square in Mdina and opposite the Domvs Romana in Rabat. 

A Greek community used to live right next to this gate — hence the name, duh.

Bieb il-Griegi was originally built in the Medieval period, also designed by Charles François de Mondion in 1724. Damn, this guy designed everything.

The back part of the gate still retains its original medieval aesthetic, making it one of the very few surviving medieval walls in Mdina. #Wow #OhMyMdina

Bieb Il Griegi

By Continentaleurope - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Slaves - which were sadly totally a thing in Malta - were only allowed to enter Mdina through this gate. 

This unfortunately kind of makes sense, since it’s the bitchiest gate to walk due to its uphill nature (if you think it's "not that bad" try walking up and down that ramp a thousand times in the scorching sun and after a day's work). 

The upper part of this gate has a mural with some oil paintings of the Madonna and Bambin along with St. Anne and the Holy Trinity. Another painting shows St. Paul baptising St. Publius, with Luke the Evangelist just chilling out on the side. Another inscription - rendered useless by our inability to read Latin and the lack of information anyone has on it - decorates this gate alongside various coats of arms. 

This gate also had a wooden drawbridge in its entrance which can be still seen today — it was used as protection along with a ditch. The ditch was eliminated eventually... because, let's face it; we don’t really get attacked anymore, and if we did, a wooden drawbridge would kinda be useless AF.

A couple of metres away from this gate, there is also a tunnel which some people have called a seperate gate to Mdina, which is also known as the outer Greek's Gate. (So treat is kind of Gate 2.5)

3. Għarreqin Gate

This gate is pretty much the obscure black sheep of the Mdina Gates family. 

This mysterious tunnel (gate?) is sometimes considered as an outer gate to the Greek's Gate, and sometimes also just a tunnel leading to it. This obscure and confusing AF gate depicts a saint holding a cross in one hand and a dagger in the other with an unrecognisable emblem at the bottom.

Screen Shot 2018 04 25 At 10 44 43

By Frank Vincentz - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

This gate/tunnel is shrouded in mystery — neither the Mdina Local Council nor the MTA could give us any specfic information about it, because the historical records are just so conflicting. 

The Għarreqin Gate also has conflicting names to it — some call it The Mtarfa Gate, others know it as The British Gate and some even call it the other Greek's Gate, because why not guys? 

Nobody seems to have any information about the Għarreqin/Mtarfa/British/Outer Greek Gate or what it was used for; all we have is heresy. Everyone seems conflicted and confused about it, but hopefully one day we will have enough information about this mysterious gem to help us appreciate it more and complete the full history behind Mdina's gate trio.

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READ NEXT: 13 Visual Reminders Of Just How Gorgeous Mdina Is


Written By

Chiara Micallef